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European Commission beats telco open access drum

BT: a model free market?

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The European Commission has reiterated its determination to see the remaining closed telecoms networks broken open to broadband competition.

In an interview with the Financial Times, telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding pointed to the type of separation of equipment from business functions enforced upon BT in the UK by Ofcom. She said: "The functional separation model is a very interesting remedy for the access problem in this market."

A commission review due for release in July could recommend extending such a scheme across Europe. Ofcom is not finished with BT, however, and today said it would introduce a series of binding separation date targets for the telco aimed at further levelling the playing field.

Deutsche Telekom has strongly resisted a push to open access to its network. Last month, German politicians capitulated, and agreed to allow the telco to exempt newly installed superfast internet connections from open access to competitors.

The original version of the laws would have seen broadband competition on all lines. The German government could now be set for a High Court showdown with commission regulators in Brussels in May.

BT's current setup resulted when it swerved a plot to break it up in 2005 by establishing Openreach. The commission believes the separate division, which is designed to guarantee equal attention to BT's ISP competitors, has contributed to putting the UK second top among broadband nations in Europe through increased competition and lower pricing.

The commission's annual survey of the telecoms market will reveal today that Germany lags behind the UK for broadband penetration. It only just bests the EU average, which includes entrants from the former Eastern Bloc. The Netherlands leads the field with broadband installed in almost 30 per cent of households. ®

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